‘Politically-Charged’ Flier Scares More Than Informs

Amid the controversy regarding the author of the flier distributed to Colfax Manor last week, the addressing of its contents is – at its core – the main issue.

The contents of the flier, one that 1st Ward councilman and budget workshop meeting chairman Andrew Casais termed “politically charged”, should be addressed on their merit to place it in context of what residents base their information on.

The fact-checking that follows is meant to provide either clarification or confirmation based on public records, official statements, and independent research. There will be no discussion of intent, simply the words, since there is no author named to ask for clarification:

If you would like your opinion considered BEFORE Mayor Accardi and Councilman Hokanson PUSH through a $500,000 Appropriation in the budget WITHOUT YOUR APPROVAL…Please read this flyer!

Mayor Joseph Accardi and Councilman-At-Large cannot ‘push’ through any resolution which is what is required to pay for a revaluation. Roselle Park’s style of government is commonly known and referred to as a ‘strong council-weak mayor’ style of government where the six-member council votes on any resolution or ordinance. The mayor does not vote at all unless there is a tie. Mayor Accardi has asked council to consider a revaluation in previous years but the finance chair, Andrew Casais, sat with the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Ken Blum to give it serious consideration for the 2014 budget year.

Additionally, neither resolutions nor ordinances require approval from residents. They may provide input, suggestions, recommendations, or objections during the public hearing or public comment portion but approval is not provided by residents for a resolution or ordinance.

“tucking” a $500,000 appropriation for property tax re-evaluation [sic] in our municipal budget is not transparent.

There have been numerous documented examples since the start of the year when the topic of a town wide revaluation, including the breakdown of how it will be paid for without impacting the taxes collected, have been cited and discussed among members of the governing body in public during the open part of mayor & council meetings as well as during budget workshops which have all be open to the public. Minutes of those meetings, which are public documents, also reflect those discussions. Councilman Carl Hokanson has had numerous meet & greets throughout the years and the topic of revaluation came up during his most recent get together. Councilwoman Charlene Storey and Councilman Andrew Casais have both had the topic of revaluation on their official council Facebook pages.

For the record, as discussed during public meetings, the breakdown of funding has been noted as follows:

Sewer Budget Surplus
One-Time Sale Of Assets
Operating Surplus
Trust Fund Assessment

It has been reported that Mayor Accardi does not want this item on a ballot for YOU to VOTE on – because he is concerned that WE the taxpayers will vote NO.

The person who stated this concern publicly at the February 25th budget workshop was 1st Ward councilman Andrew Casais. He stated, “If this went out for a referendum, I’d be willing to bet that it would fail. And maybe it’s wrong of me to say this but this is the right thing to do for the town and I think we need to see the forest for the trees and say this is the right thing to do.”

NO other municipality in Union County is doing a re-evaluation [sic] at this time!

This is correct. The most recent revaluation in the county was performed 15 years ago by Berkeley Heights. Out of all Union County municipalities, only two of them – Fanwood (1983) and Union Township (1975) – have had revaluations performed earlier than Roselle Park. 17 other municipalities have had townwide revaluations done at the same time or more recent than Roselle Park.

Why Roselle Park?

The questions is asked but the reason given by the governing body is never presented. The reason is that between 2008 and 2013, the municipality has lost $677,294.34 due to rebates or refunds that were awarded to property owners that successful filed tax appeals. That amount had to be paid by the remaining taxpayers.

Amount Of

This amount is even more the first year the appeal is granted because even though the municipality takes 100% of the amount reduced, it has to pay the full amount of the tax levies to the schools and county on top of that – which is an additional total of 66% of the amount reduced since that amount comes from the municipality’s budget. If the municipality opts to take a bond with the revaluation firm, any appeals will be covered for two years and the municipality will not have to pay those, should any occur.

In this economy do we need to ADD over 16 tax points to your next tax bill?

There will be zero tax points added to the budget and, thereby, there will be no increase in anyone’s tax bill that will come from budgeting for the tax revaluation. As shown before, the funding comes from monies already in the budget on the revenue side – not appropriations side. In comparison, taxpayers who have not filed successful appeals have actually paid over $700,000 (which would include fees to defend and negotiate tax appeals) and that comes out to over 21 tax points.

With re-evaluation [sic]  some taxes will go up and some taxes will go down

This is correct. Historical data has shown that, in general, 1/3 of property taxes will increase, 1/3 of property taxes will go down, and about 1/3 of property taxes will remain constant.

We will also be at the risk that Union County taxes will go up as a result of the re-evaluation [sic].

The tax rate is set annually by the County and is based on budgets for the municipality, schools, and the county. When a municipality undertakes revaluations at different times, the potential does exist to carry an unfairly large share of the county’s tax load if its assessed values are higher than other municipalities in the county. To address this, counties level the playing field by assigning a multiplier value which is intended to make each town more comparable to other towns and to approximate current market conditions.

Why don’t they want to HEAR YOUR OPINION?

Mayor & council meetings as well as budget workshops have always been open to the public and these meetings have had open discussions regarding revaluation.

How are other towns managing without a re-evaluation [sic]?

Put simply they are not. The majority of 566 municipalities throughout the state have conducted revaluations within the past decade.

Why not wait for better economic times?

Having revaluations performed during times when the real estate market, which rises and drops in connection with ‘economic times’, are actually not beneficial since having a high market revaluation that is followed by a downward trend in the market. Maplewood is an example of this as they performed a townwide revaluation in 2000 – when economic times were good – and had to perform another one a decade later. Performing a revaluation when the real estate market is low is beneficial to property owners due to their assessments being comparable to a low market, thereby allowing for an increase in value while maintaining realistic assessments.

put it on a ballot and let the RESIDENTS vote on the spending of $500,000.

In New Jersey, the majority of municipalities, Roselle Park being one of them, only have what is called a non-binding referendum. This means that whatever the outcome of a vote from residents on a referendum, the governing body is not obligated to act in accordance with a referendum. In Roselle Park, a referendum is the equivalent of a straw poll or opinion poll. There are already plans to have town hall-style meetings to get input from residents and to provide information. Suggesting to have the matter brought forward in a referendum, which can only occur during a primary or general election ties that vote to a political office, something that a candidate can connect his or her campaign to in order to use a serious issue as a political football.

Let your voice be heard BEFORE the meeting of Thursday, March 22, 2014 – or it will be too late.

March 22nd is a Saturday, not a Thursday. Additionally, the budget is not being voted on that evening. There are ample opportunities to address this matter not only before the voting on the budget but also before any monies are spent through a resolution.

Even former members of the governing body were dismayed by the flier’s content and approach to what they deemed a ‘serious issue’.

“The flier I saw regarding revaluation is a disgrace and a shame,” stated former 1st ward councilman Bob Milici, “Those behind it crafted [the flier] with several pieces of misinformation and selective information. Let’s hope those responsible are exposed for this sophomoric political action and the correct information comes out through the efforts of the Mayor and those Councilpersons who stand for truth.”

Mr. Milici also added, regarding the lack of authorship, “Not signing one’s name to this type of political propaganda is the worst kind of cowardice.”